Nuneham Courtenay - An Oxfordshire Village

Nuneham Courtenay is one of the best known and most important "planned" estate villages in the country. It's creation in 1760 was as a direct result of development in the history of Nuneham House and it's surrounding landscaped park.

Sir Simon Harcourt, Chancellor to Queen Anne, had bought the estate in 1710 as an investment, with his grandson, the 1st Earl of Harcourt (1714 - 1777) inheriting the estate at the young age of thirteen.

On taking up residence on the site, The Earl of Harcourt commenced construction of a new house overlooking the River Thames. The new Nuneham House was designed by the architect Stiff Leadbetter. The design of the house changed and it was enlarged twice during the construction, so when the house when completed in 1764 it was far from the compact Palladian villa projected when the construction commenced.

It was during the construction of the house that it became increasingly clear that the perfect riverside setting of the new house was marred by the presence of the medieval village close to the entrance. Consequently, it was necessary to remove completely the village from the site of the house. Lord Harcourt took the opportunity to provide a completely new village with modern amenities which he placed either side of the Oxford to Henley road. The removal of the village commenced in 1760 and was largely completed by the Autumn of 1761. The houses and cottages were all carefully painted in similar colours to emphasise the overall unity of the village and its single ownership.

Visitors to the estate included the Poet Laureate William Whitehead and it was he who coined the change of spelling from "Newenham" to "Nuneham" in about 1764.

The design of the landscaped park owed much to the poet and gardener the Rev. William Mason, who designed it's flower garden in 1771. George Simon Harcourt, 2nd Earl Harcourt commissioned Lancelot "Capability" Brown to make alterations to the park in 1779 and the house in 1781. The works were completed in the Autumn of 1782, shortly before Brown's death. Whitehead's poem, "The Late Improvements at Nuneham" celebrated Brown's work.

During World War II, Nuneham House and the park around it was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence and became RAF Nuneham Park (1942 - 1957). It being a P.R.I.U. or Photographic Reconnaissance Interpretation Unit. Examining the photographs taken by aircraft from RAF Benson and other airfields, were not only RAF Officers, but also a small contingent from the Army, Royal Navy and the USAAF. The RAF station continued after the war in the same role until the mid-1950's, when the estate was handed back to the Harcourt family

In 1948, the 2nd Viscount Harcourt sold the estate to the University of Oxford. As opportunity allowed, individual cottages were rehabilitated and brought again up to modern standards. The majority of buildings in the village are included on the statutory list of buildings of special architectural or historical interest and on the 13th December 1984, Nuneham Courtenay was included as Grade One on the register of Parks and Gardens of special historic interest to England.